Executive summary

This OECD Skills Strategy project provides Korea with tailored opportunities and recommendations to strengthen the governance of its adult learning system. The project has benefited from the insights of a wide range of government and stakeholder representatives through two rounds of background questionnaires, written input on the four priority areas, an interactive focus group and bilateral meetings during two OECD missions to Korea, and two Korean expert visits to the OECD. This process provided invaluable input that shaped the findings and recommendations in this report.

In recent years, Korea has made significant progress in strengthening its skills and economic performance. The skills of 15 year olds in reading, mathematics and science, as well as the tertiary education attainment rate among young adults, are among the highest across the OECD. The economy has steadily grown, and only recently contracted due to the ramifications of COVID-19, although Korea has been less impacted economically than other OECD countries.

The public health crisis requires immediate policy attention, and large-scale policy responses are required to provide support to those affected, as well as to promote economic recovery. The skills acquired through adult learning can have a positive impact on the economic recovery, and a resilient and adaptable adult learning system can help to mitigate economic and social shocks in the future, as well as help Korea to prepare for the challenges posed by megatrends such as population ageing, technological change and globalisation.

There are some challenges in the current adult learning system. While several ministries are involved in the provision of adult learning, a comprehensive and shared vision is missing. Subnational governments vary significantly in their capacity to implement adult learning policies. Although government and stakeholders are increasingly involved in social dialogue around adult learning policies, they often lack sufficient capacity to render the engagement effective. Financial incentives need to be tailored and targeted more to support the participation of disadvantaged groups in adult learning.

In order to address many of these challenges, Korea has implemented a range of strategies and reforms, such as the Inclusive Nation Social Policy Promotion Plan (2019-2022). To support these efforts, the OECD and the Government of Korea have identified four priority areas to further improve Korea’s adult learning governance. These priorities and the key findings are summarised below.

Having a strong adult learning system requires a co-ordinated effort across a range of government ministries, also referred to as horizontal governance. As adult learning encompasses the domains of diverse ministries, effective policy co-ordination across ministries increases the potential to improve adult learning outcomes. Ministries should work together with stakeholders to create a comprehensive long-term vision for adult learning. The Social Affairs Ministers’ Committee, established in 2015 to lead horizontal co-ordination across nine ministries on a variety of social policies, should play a key role in co-ordinating adult learning policies across ministries. Horizontal co-ordination is particularly required to disseminate consistent information about adult learning opportunities.

Korea can strengthen horizontal governance in adult learning by:

  • Developing a long-term vision for adult learning and supporting co-ordination across ministries.

  • Improving the dissemination of adult learning information in co-ordination with ministries.

Multiple levels of government are involved in the design and implementation of adult learning policies. Strong vertical governance arrangements are necessary to co-ordinate the respective roles and responsibilities across these levels for the effective and equitable implementation of adult learning policies across the country. Co-ordination bodies such lifelong education promotion councils and regional skills councils play an important role in co-ordinating across levels of government, and their effectiveness should be raised. Given that the capacity for implementing adult learning policies varies significantly across subnational governments, those with lower capacity require additional support.

Korea can strengthen vertical governance in adult learning by:

  • Improving co-operation in adult learning policies across levels of government.

  • Supporting subnational governments to effectively implement adult learning policies.

The effectiveness of adult learning policies depends on the responses and actions of a wide range of actors, including stakeholders. Engaging stakeholders allows for their expertise and knowledge to inform adult learning policies and raises their support for implemented policies. In order for engagement processes to be constructive, government officials and stakeholders need to be aware of why engagement matters, and have the capacity to engage effectively. Strengthening the role of stakeholders, particularly those who are disadvantaged, in the adult learning policy-making process requires diverse and inclusive engagement efforts, as well as effective stakeholder engagement bodies.

Korea can strengthen stakeholder engagement in adult learning by:

  • Raising the awareness of, and capacity for, effective stakeholder engagement.

  • Involving stakeholders effectively in the adult learning policy-making process.

A strong financing model in adult learning facilitates the effective co-ordination of funding sources and funding distribution. The total available funding for adult learning should meet the diverse adult learning needs of society, employers and individuals. At the same time, the distribution of funding needs to be equitable in order for it to be allocated proportionately, based on the ability of the beneficiaries to pay. Given that the national government has the largest amount of available funds it should play an important role in ensuring the equitable distribution of funds for adult learning policies. Disadvantaged subnational governments will require additional financial support to implement adult learning policies. As the cost of participating in adult learning remains a significant barrier for disadvantaged groups, further improvements regarding financial incentives for individuals are necessary.

Korea can strengthen financing arrangements in adult learning by:

  • Co-ordinating adult learning financing arrangements across levels of government.

  • Improving financial incentives for individuals to participate in adult learning.


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